Building and Civil Engineering Contracts (Committee)

Oral Answers to Questions — Public Building and Works – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 16th July 1963.

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Photo of Mr Charles Pannell Mr Charles Pannell , Leeds West 12:00 am, 16th July 1963

asked the Minister of Public Building and Works if he has yet received the report of the Committee under Sir Harold Banwell which is inquiring into the practices adopted for the placing and management of contracts for buildings and civil engineering projects.

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Rippon Mr Geoffrey Rippon , Norwich South

I have received an interim report in the form of a letter from the Chairman, Sir Harold Banwell. I will, with permission, circulate the full text in the Official Report.

The interim report recommends the greater use of selective tendering by local authorities. The Government accept the Committee's recommendations in principle and will immediately arrange further discussions with the local authority associations.

Photo of Mr Charles Pannell Mr Charles Pannell , Leeds West

Will the right hon. Gentleman tell us what he means by "selective tendering"? Does he appreciate that there has been a lot of public tendering and that there is a feeling abroad that there is far too much log-rolling among friends and friends' friends? What does he mean by "selective tendering"? Will the right hon. Gentleman also address himself to whether the old-fashioned form of tendering might not be looked at again?

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Rippon Mr Geoffrey Rippon , Norwich South

That is exactly what the Committee has been looking at. It has made recommendations which are set out in detail in its letter, which I am sure the hon. Gentleman will read with interest. By "selective tendering" I mean tendering off a list of selected firms as distinct from open competitive tendering.

Mr. Gresham Cooke:

Could my right hon. Friend say when the full report of this very important Banwell Committee will be available?

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Rippon Mr Geoffrey Rippon , Norwich South

I hope, without committing myself or indeed the Committee, that it will be completed by the end of the year.

Photo of Mr Maurice Edelman Mr Maurice Edelman , Coventry North

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that already there seems to be an abuse by which privileged contractors seem to enjoy more than their fair share of work, often undertaking contracts far beyond their capacity? Would he not do much better to recommend that the burden of work should be more widely distributed, so that smaller firms could also have access to some of these contracts?

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Rippon Mr Geoffrey Rippon , Norwich South

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will submit some evidence to the Committee which is considering these matters. I do not accept what he says. If, however, he has information on particular instances of abuse I will gladly investigate them.

Following is the letter

27th June, 1963.

Selective tendering has been used by your Ministry since 1939 as a suitable form of competitive tendering procedure for many kinds of building and construction work undertaken on the Ministry's behalf. The Simon Committee in 1944 recommended selective tendering as the most advantageous form of competitive tendering for building work, and this view has been supported in a number of subsequent reports by independent committees.

In spite of these views and decisions, it is clear to us from the evidence we have already received that, in the field of public expenditure controlled by Local Authorities, a bias in favour of open competitive tendering, of the type condemned by the Simon Committee, has continued to operate.

Having regard to the large programme of work involving public expenditure now in contemplation, and without anticipating the contents of our ultimate report to you, we consider as a Committee that in the public interest it is desirable that further steps should be taken by the Government Departments concerned to encourage Local Authorities to adopt the same practice in regard to tendering as that now used by your Ministry. We understand that this may mean the amendment of existing Standing Orders and Financial Regulations by individual Local Authorities and the possible consideration of a Code of Tendering Practice suitable for Local Government on the lines of the Code published by the National Joint Consultative Committee of Architects, Quantity Surveyors and Builders in 1959. These matters can well be settled in discussion between the Ministries concerned and the Associations of Local Authorities, and we believe that some steps in this direction have already been taken.

Talks of this nature sire apt to be rather time consuming. If Local Authorities are to be given the advantage of this greater freedom in relation to the programme of work which confronts them, then a clear lead must be given by the Government Departments concerned and the discussion to which we have referred expedited. We are making you aware of our views on this particular question so as to avoid the possibility of further delay.

G. H. Banwell.

The Rt. Hon. Geoffrey Rippon, M.P., Minister of Public Building and Works.